Sunday

21st Apr 2019

Opinion

Is the Aachen treaty Merkel's legacy?

  • It is the evolution of Germany under Angela Merkel that is interesting (Photo: Schneider/CDU Hessen)

Long-time observers of European politics have been looking in vain for Angela Merkel's legacy.

We might have had a hint of it last week, in the coronation hall of the German city of Aachen.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Both the German chancellor and French president Emmanuel Macron were in solemn attendance while their respective countries – the power couple of European politics - renewed and upgraded their marriage vows originally made with the Elysee treaty of 1963.

A new Franco-German treaty committed them to, among other things, closer consultations to develop joint positions ahead of important EU meetings, a Franco-German economic area with joint rules, tighter military cooperation and support for Germany's permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council.

This last pledge reveals a long-term risk inherent in the new treaty: that the Franco-German couple, no longer the engine of a much-enlarged EU, might become a vehicle for the reassertion of two strong national sovereignties, as opposed to the linchpin of a European federal order.

It is true that the unwillingness to convert France's permanent seat into a European one has come, as usual, from Paris.

Still last November Berlin's finance minister Olaf Scholz had proposed that in the medium term the French seat might become an EU seat, provoking the dry French rebuke that this would run counter to the UN charter (what a compelling political argument!).

Apart from the traditional intergovernmental leanings of the French Gaullist tradition – which clearly lurk just beneath the surface of Macron's much-flaunted European-ism – it is however the evolution of Germany under Merkel that is interesting.

Merkel's measured leadership in the EU during the last decade of multiple crises seems to have reconstituted Germany as a strong national state that, while committed to European cooperation, has little appetite for dissolving itself in a supranational political union.

From Kohl to Merkel

This is a crucial change from the Helmut Kohl era, when the attainment of a European federation seemed to be at hand and was clearly the favoured option of German elites.

The recovery of the eastern protestant regions after reunification meant that the post-war dominance of the catholic south and west – historically more cosmopolitan and federative in outlook – has been undermined.

More recently, the experience of successful, albeit contested, continental leadership has also made Germans more outward-looking and self-conscious in European and global power games.

The country can rightly pride itself with having kept the EU together thanks to its impeccable economic performance and renewed sense of national purpose.

These trends have been compounded by Merkel's essentially intergovernmental vision of European integration.

The last federative effort of German elites was the EU's ill-fated constitutional treaty, initiated by a famous speech of Joschka Fischer at the Humboldt University in 2000.

Ever since Merkel took over, her specific brand of inter-governmentalism has left its mark on any new European initiative, most notably during the sovereign debt crisis and the management of financial assistance to the EU's periphery.

Bismarck 2.0

With all appropriate caveats, it is perhaps not excessive to characterise the result as neo-Bismarckian: the reconstitution of Germany as a strong national state that is again trotting in the wilderness of history exposed to all the winds of change without strong continental safeguards.

In the long-term, Merkel's responsible leadership and her commitment to multilateralism and European cooperation seems little more than the modern equivalent of Bismarck's alliance system: a passing safeguard dangerously dependent on the wisdom of her successors.

Only time will tell, but in the very different context of the 21st century, Merkel may have unwittingly revitalised what Bismarck had achieved and Hitler destroyed: a self-restrained but conscious and confident German national state.

It is perhaps no accident that this period saw the rebirth of a nationalist right in Germany.

The chancellor restored the German nation to a rank that it had never had in Europe since the 1930s and turned the prospect of a European federal union into a remote regulative ideal.

The 'Cunning of Reason' of which Hegel spoke is always at work in history.

Those who today contest her in the name of a Europe of nations cooperating with each other may one day realise that she did far more than them to achieve it.

Federico Ottavio Reho is strategic coordinator and research officer at the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies

Analysis

France and Germany hope to revive EU with Aachen treaty

In the face of attacks on the liberal world order and the EU, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron renew German-Franco cooperation - but their lack of political capital prevents bold visions or ambitious goals.

Agenda

Aachen treaty and Brexit endgame This WEEK

Germany and France are set to reinforce their alliance as the engine-house of European integration, while Britain continues to struggle to leave the EU.

Merkel loyalist AKK wins CDU leadership battle

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, seen as championing similar policies to Angela Merkel, has won the CDU party leadership contest and is thus the frontrunner to become chancellor once Merkel leaves. But a split party will mean challenges.

How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament

British plans to - maybe - take part in EU elections risk legal chaos in the next European Parliament, which could be resolved only by treaty change - an unlikely prospect.

Press freedom and the EU elections

We are campaigning for the next European Commission to appoint a commissioner with a clear mandate to take on the challenge of the protection of freedom, independence and diversity of journalism.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Latest News

  1. Romania drafts EU code on NGO migrant rescues
  2. Bulgaria, Hungary, and Malta shamed on press unfreedom
  3. EU drafts $20bn US sanctions list in aviation dispute
  4. Brunei defends stoning to death of gay men in EU letter
  5. US Democrats side with Ireland on Brexit
  6. Wifi or 5G to connect EU cars? MEPs weigh in
  7. How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament
  8. EU parliament backs whistleblower law

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  6. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  7. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  9. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  12. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us